Greener pastures: In conversation with the founder of Udder Chaos Animal Sanctuary in Wrightstown

"There was so much going on and so much we had to learn, like: the multiple types of hay, horse hay is different from cow hay and you can't feed the cows hay that's too dry, and even learning how to ride a tractor."

In the spring of 2021, a massive fire ripped through a cattle farm in Wrightstown (Burlington County), burning all the hay, destroying the hay barn, and ultimately claiming the life of the owner/operator. With no one to manage the 10 cattle on the farm, a family friend of the farmer’s, Danielle, and her boyfriend assumed the duties of caring for the animals.

But Danielle had worked in animal welfare since she was 18, and so she decided with these cattle—once destined for sale and, likely, slaughter—she “was not going to send any of these animals to auction.”  

Instead, she founded an animal sanctuary, Udder Chaos, on the farm. In just over a year’s time, what started as a herd of 10 cattle has since grown to 16 (all of the females were pregnant at the time Danielle and her boyfriend took over), and there’s a goat.

Today, the cattle are living peacefully on 17 acres of land, and the Udder Chaos crew has designs on bringing in more farm animals once destined for slaughter. Though the idea that a domesticated animal can exist without serving a tangible purpose for humans is, bafflingly, a bridge too far for many in American society, the conviction that underlines the mission of Udder Chaos is that, simply, animals born on this Earth have a right to a life free from cruelty.

In our conversation, Danielle talks about her history with animal welfare, the steep learning curve associated with taking on a herd of cattle, and what the future holds for Udder Chaos.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

I was first introduced to Udder Chaos at a Light Brigade Collective show at Trinity Church in Asbury Park. You addressed the crowd and told us a bit about the sanctuary and how it got its name. For the sake of our readers, how did you come up with the name again?

Oh no, public speaking is not my forte! Well, I like puns and it has just been crazy; the whole year has been crazy, hence the name, Udder Chaos. My background is in animal welfare, yes, but it’s mostly with dogs and cats and some small farm animals and not very much work with cows, so it was really chaotic, especially when we recognized they were pregnant. We had no idea how far along they were and there was a period of time, for about six weeks, where the cows were giving birth one after the other, and we did lose one of the moms in the process. These cows are older, and they really shouldn’t have been bred at their age. There was so much going on and so much we had to learn, like: the multiple types of hay, horse hay is different from cow hay and you can’t feed the cows hay that’s too dry, and even learning how to ride a tractor. You know, just all of these things that I never thought I would have done in my ‘five-year plan’ but… we’re doing it.

I’m not a farmer but this undertaking sounds like a Herculean task…and it’s not even your full-time job. What seems most daunting to me is acquiring all of this vital knowledge in such a short period of time. How are you steepening the learning curve? You’ve gotta be living on Google, no?

A lot of Google, a lot of YouTube, and a lot of help from local farmers. Where we are in Burlington County it seems like everybody knows each other, so a lot of the older farmers, who knew the previous owner of the property, reached out to help. I’m so grateful to be able to talk with them and use their expertise. I mean, we both have two different mindsets; obviously a lot of the local farmers don’t understand what we’re doing or why we’re doing it. There’s one in particular who’s been asking more questions and is really interested because I think he does have a soft spot for his own cows and doesn’t necessarily want to always send them to auction. It’s been really great to build that relationship and maybe one day we’ll change his outlook.

So who all is involved in the sanctuary? How big is your team? 

My boyfriend [Jarrett] does a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff: working with the tractor, building fences. He’s there almost every single day—his schedule is a lot more flexible than mine, which I’m so grateful for. My parents [Joe and JoAnn] help out a lot, which is really cute. They collect a lot of produce from flea market produce stands, or local grocers from their area, so, that’s great because the cows love their produce as an extra treat. Mike from Light Brigade, who I know you’ve talked with before, he’s great. Then there’s Chris [one of Mike’s friends], Kelly, Mike S., the Wallace family, Paul and Leanne—those are my main volunteers.

Forgive my ignorance but is space a concern, or is 17 acres sufficient for the animals you have now?

Space isn’t a concern right now but, I’d absolutely love to be able to expand. There are a few properties around us that either we hope come up for sale or we could probably just make an offer to the current owners. Space isn’t really a concern for us right now, though, and we could definitely bring in some more animals with the amount of land that we currently have.

Now, we get to the obvious topic of funding; one can only assume that running the sanctuary requires a great deal of it. How do you go about finding the necessary funds?

In the past I’ve done fundraising and events, and, luckily, I’ve also done some grant writing. Primarily how we survive, outside of my own paycheck, is through individual fundraising programs—monthly sponsorships of animals, Facebook fundraisers for people’s birthdays have been a massive help, and then other events that pop up through the year like “Giving Tuesday” or that Light Brigade show—have been great.

The monthly sponsorship program, is that for organizations/businesses or can individuals sponsor an animal as well?

It’s designed for both. You can go right on our website and there’s a page that has a link for every animal’s profile and you can sponsor them individually; part of the sponsorship is a monthly update on the animal and then there are quarterly gifts like, for Valentine’s Day we gave “cow kisses,” which was a cow face imprint on a canvas—that promotion did really well. This quarter we are sending out pumpkin seeds to everyone so they can plant them. Pumpkins are the cows’ favorite treat, so if you grow your pumpkins you can come back in the fall and feed them to the animals.

That’s an awesome idea! You come up with some really creative promotions/fundraisers.

Yeah, a lot of inspiration is drawn from my experience and then my boyfriend has come up with a lot of great ideas, too, especially with our merch. We don’t get much money [from merch] because it costs money to print the shirts or whatever, but it definitely helps promote. 

Any upcoming events of note?

We have a Blueberry Festival coming up on July 17 at Clement Blueberry Farm in Pemberton, New Jersey. It’s a pick-your-own blueberry event and 100% of the proceeds will go to us. There’ll be some vendors and food trucks coming out, too. Hopefully that will be successful.

What’s the best way for people to help Udder Chaos? Are you currently looking for volunteers?

Donations, really. Supporting us through the monthly sponsorships are probably the best way for people to help out. The more donations we get, the more animals we can save. In the long run we’d love to be able to save more lives, bring in some more cows and goats or any farm animal that needs a home. 

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